Sunday, 12 April 2015

Judaeo-Christian values: what are they?

In the UK lately, there's been talk about what "Judaeo-Christian values" are. So what are they? This is not difficult to answer, because Jesus set out his values in a neat and tidy way.

Here they are, as found in the famous Sermon on the Mount. These values are known to Christians as the eight 'Beatitudes'. Matthew's Gospel reports Jesus saying what he really values like this:

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
 Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
 Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
 Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
 Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
                                                                                      Matthew 5:3-10

Now, the point of 'values' is that they drive our 'ethics'. That is, when we know what's important to us (values), we know how we should behave (ethics). We think about what matters to us most, and then we put that into action.

So Jesus teaches values and ethics in a joined-up way here. Those eight Beatitudes are his values. In his Sermon on the Mount, he does what you are supposed to do next. He takes his 'values' and makes 'ethics' out of each of them in turn, to make them more practical. These ethics are the ways his followers should behave if they are living by his values.

So, for example, take this simple value: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." In the sermon, Jesus takes that simple value and turns it into ethical behaviour like this: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matt 5:38-48)

So this is how Jesus does it. Value by value, and ethic by ethic, he turns values into ethics.

So that you can follow what he does in the sermon, here is a guide. Using a style of the Jewish teachers, he does his explanations of his values in reverse order. So the eight values (Beatitudes) first, then his eight ethical teachings in reverse order to match. In other words, it goes like this:

VALUES                                                                                ETHICS BASED ON THE VALUES

Blessed are the poor in spirit                                                       - Matt 7:7-11
Blessed are those who mourn                                                      - Matt 7:1-6
Blessed are the meek                                                                   - Matt 6:19-34
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness         - Matt:6:1-18
Blessed are the merciful                                                              - Matt 5:38-48
Blessed are the pure in heart                                                        - Matt 5:27-37
Blessed are the peacemakers                                                        - Matt 5:21-26
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness - Matt 5:11-20

(I got that breakdown from Roger Forster's handy little book The Kingdom of Jesus, pages 78-80.)

Jesus' ethical examples were relevant to the issues of his day. There's a challenge for us today to take the eight values of the Beatitudes and turn them into ethical choices that are relevant to the worlds we live in today. So some people might put 'peace-making' into practice by helping people to end conflicts by making agreements. Others might put 'purity' into practice by encouraging faithful marriages. And so on.

And that, in a nutshell, is what Judaeo-Christian values are about.

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